It was music worthy of troubled times.
Her voice full of heartache and tender resolve, Iranian pop diva and national icon Googoosh delivered old hits and songs from her new album to a crowded stadium on Thursday in Dubai – just across the Arabian Gulf from her home , Iran, which had banned him from singing for 21 years and where the authorities continue to this day to protest against his performances.
“When our lives are spent in gloomy solitude, where will we find these beautiful moments again?” she sang in Farsi from the stage at Expo 2020, the world’s fair in Dubai. “May my dreams never be unfulfilled.”
Dressed first in a simple white dress and then in a shimmering black dress, she gently swayed her hips and said she hoped people would remember the night forever.
The public went wild.
Googoosh’s classic songs from before the pre-1979 Islamic revolution drew cheers and shouts of appreciation, as Iranian audiences sang every word of the cabaret-style ballads and skipped along to his disco tunes.
“I can’t tell you how much I love it,” exclaimed Sarah Ali, a 35-year-old Iranian fan who traveled from Oman for the concert and arrived at the Expo nine hours early to get as close to the stage as possible. “My country has so many problems, the economy is terrible, the government is, you know, there are no freedoms. But we have our legend.
The life of Googoosh, 71, born in Tehran as Faegheh Atashin, echoed Iran’s troubled times before and after the Islamic Revolution.
Under the Western-backed shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Googoosh rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s as a Tehran cabaret star. But the revolution that ousted the shah and installed a Shiite theocracy later silenced it – clerics banned pop music and women’s performances.
When Iran’s reformist government granted her permission to travel in 2000, she left home to find millions of fervent fans around the world awaiting her return to the stage – those in exile who remembered the heyday and those in Iran eager to hear it through illegal music cassettes. .
Her new album, “Twenty One” was released a year ago, and her current tour will take her from Los Angeles to Toronto. The electrified public in Dubai on Thursday reported that the passing decades have done nothing to diminish his popularity.
“She’s just amazing,” said Aida Mohammadi, 13, an Iranian who lives in Dubai. “My mom and I grew up dancing to Googoosh every day.”
The thousands of waving and swaying Iranians in attendance – including many expats for whom Googoosh has long been a powerful if not painful invocation of their past lives in Iran – also testified to the deep relationship between Dubai and Iran.
The United Arab Emirates, with its glittering financial hub, hedonistic hotels and bikini beaches just 100 miles from Iran’s shores, has been home to hundreds of thousands of Iranian expatriates for decades. A strong community of Iranian businessmen built booming businesses here after 1979 and when Dubai became a key transshipment point for Iran for goods and supplies.
But this relationship has often been put to the test. Political tensions surfaced when the Expo announced that Googoosh would perform there as part of its 2021-2022 tour. The pavilions of most of the 192 countries exhibiting at the World Expo are mainly government-funded, and official Iran would have hoped the Expo would feature theocracy-sanctioned entertainment.
Instead, Expo chose to feature Googoosh, an enduring cultural metaphor for Shah-era Iran.
The Roudaki Foundation, a major cultural institution run by the Iranian state, sent a protest letter to the Expo’s organizing committee. The letter, widely reported in Iranian media, insulted Googoosh as Pahlavi’s “mistress” and denounced Expo’s decision to elevate her as an Iranian “cultural symbol”.
But detractors were nowhere in sight in Dubai as the closing notes of “Kavir” or “Desert” drifted through the sprawling fairgrounds. The audience chanted his name and shouted, “I love you!” as the confetti rained down.
In a mood of wistful loss, the song swelled into defiant and triumphant final notes.
“I just hope to see that one day in Iran,” Ali said, gesturing to the vast crowd of older couples and young girls, some wearing black Islamic chadors and others in spaghetti straps, singing along at the top of their voices.